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Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Vintage Gleaming Aluminum Christmas Tree

They glitter. They shimmer. They bask in the glow of gently rotating color wheels. They last forever. Once called 'tin Tannenbaums,' aluminum Christmas trees provoked or infuriated many people when they first hit the market in 1959 -- but entranced so many others.

Aluminum trees first came into fashion during the holiday season of 1959, when the first all-aluminum trees went on sale. Sales were moderate the first year, with shoppers not quite knowing what to make of the gleaming metal attractions; but by the next season the public was buying them as quickly as they could be manufactured. It is estimated that between 1959 and 1969 sales of the most popular brand, Evergleam, were in the range of four million trees.

The original silver metallic color remained the most popular, but before long aluminum trees were being manufactured in every hue of the rainbow - including white, blue, green, gold, and - most fabulous of all - pink. Because of the dangers of electrical shock associated with attaching lights to aluminum trees, color wheel spotlights were manufactured in order to illuminate them. The colored wheels - which have mesmerized many a child over the years - became a popular entity unto themselves. Within a few years it was simply unthinkable to own an aluminum tree without one.

Although more than 1 million aluminum trees were made in the 1960s, sales began to decline in 1965 when Americans took to heart Charlie Brown’s refusal to get a pink aluminum Christmas tree. In the story, Lucy tells Charlie Brown to “Get the biggest aluminum Christmas tree you can find. Maybe painted pink.” But in the true spirit of Christmas, Charlie Brown refused.

By the early 1970s, aluminum orchards were uprooted all across our great land. It was a new era, the back-to-the-earth, natural-is-beautiful movement. Earth Day was born. Aluminum trees were trashed (recycling had yet to make much of an impact), or were hidden in closets or attics.
Over the past few years, aluminum trees have made a comeback. The silver ones are most common, other colors are more scarce. Pink colored aluminum trees are the rarest and most sought after, selling for hundreds and even thousands of dollars.

Six foot is the "standard" size for vintage aluminum trees, with probably 75-80% of trees made in that height. The tree everyone judges other trees against (probably because they invented them in 1959 and made the most) is the Evergleam pom pom at either 91 branches (1959-1960) or 94 branches (1961-1969). Other quality manufacturers included Peco (Christmas Pine), Arandell (Silver Forest), Carey-McFall (Taper Tree), and Star Band (Sparkler). At the height of the aluminum Christmas tree fad in the early 1960s, there were over 30 manufacturers of silver trees in the United States.

Vintage aluminum trees ranged in height from under 2' to 8' and taller, and had branch counts from under 30 all the way up to 200+. The fewer the branches, the more open the tree, but a tree with fewer branches could be made to look fuller if the manufacturer added pom poms to the ends of the branches.

Perhaps one day we'll get an aluminum Christmas tree. But for now I still enjoy the smell of a real tree and to have it glowing with small twinkling lights.

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